Was The Seattle Seahawks 2012 Defense Not A Good As We Think It Was?


Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Seattle Seahawks starting defensive backs Earl Thomas (29), Brandon Browner (39), Richard Sherman (25), Kam Chancellor (31) take the field for warm-ups prior to facing the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, I’m going to be taking a statistical look at the Seahawks 2012 defense and how it compared to the other teams in the NFL. I already did this with the offense back before the draft, and the results showed that the Seahawks offense was better and more efficient then they were given credit for.

The defense, I fear, might be on the other side of that coin. We’ll see where the data takes over the next  week or so. Before I get into the numbers, I wanted to write a bit about why I find this stuff so interesting, and thus why I spend my time running all these stats. 

Whenever a discussion gets going about how good the Seattle Seahawks defense was a year ago, the conversation seems to always end when someone brings up a certain fact:

#1 in points allowed in 2012

That’s all that matter, right? If the opponent can’t score, then they can’t win. Yards given up doesn’t matter much if the other team cannot get the ball into the endzone. Is anyone going to argue with that? I don’t think so, but I also don’t think it tells the entire story.

The problem is that points allowed isn’t necessarily a good measure for the quality of a defensive unit, since there are other variables that inflate and deflate that number that has nothing to do with defense. Sure, the quality of the defense is likely the biggest factor here (how could it not be?), but are all the other factors combined enough to skew the data? I believe that will be the case.

For instance, the offense plays a significant role in points allowed in a number of ways. If an offense can’t regularly move the football and keep possession of the ball, than the defense will be on the field more and tend to “wear down” as the game goes along. You could have a defense that gives up more points than it’s talent and overall performance would indicate.

Another variable here would be turnovers. A offense that turns the ball over a lot, would put pressure on the defense by providing the opponent with a short field. Less distance to the endzone would mean a higher probability of scoring, regardless of the defensive talent.

Then there’s the “pace” of the offense to consider. The Seahawks deliberately shortened games in 2012 by running down the play clock as much as possible. They had the 2nd slowest offense of any team in the NFL, and I’m sure that doing so limited the number of possessions opposing teams had. Less possessions generally means less points.

Special teams would play a roll here as well. Field position would seem to be factor in scoring potential. Good special teams units would mean a longer distance for your opponent to cover in order to get into the endzone, and thus would decrease their probability of scoring.

How do all of these factors fit together? I have no idea just yet, but that’s what I’m hoping to find out.

I will leave you will this nugget though: The Seahawks defense was only on the field for 164 drives in 2012. That’ the least of every team in the league, and 4 less than 2nd place. The NFL average was just over 181. That’s 15 drives the Seahawks defense wasn’t on the field for compared to the NFL average.